Technology has one function and that is to do every day normal things faster and easier. It did not invent communication it only facilitates it faster. It did not invent entertainment it just allows us greater variety and more access. Technology is growing leaps and bounds. It’s serving both to simultaneously connect us as well as to strip us of our everyday social skills.
I am part of what I call the transition generation. This is the generation that knows what it was like before the internet. I first used the internet in 1996. I knew the world prior to the proliferation of cell phones, social media and Google. I witness the popularization of the internet and today I live in a world that is fully inundated by a staggering pace of technological progress. I have come to embrace it all. Each new technology enables us to function more effectively, saving both time and money.
Like most things in this world, we can’t escape the dual impact that technology has on society. On the bright side, it has improved the way we live and work. Working from home, having flexible hours and having the ability to reach a mass audience is something we could not have imagined thirty years ago. It is changing the business landscape. Netflix and Uber are excellent examples of creative destruction. It makes life for the consumer a lot easier and more efficient.
While life has indeed been made much easier with all this technological advancement, it also has a dark side. It has left many unemployed and alone. A lot of jobs have been automated and technological unemployment is growing. It is expected that in the future, many jobs will be automated and will need only minimal human effort. I believe that there will always be the need for the human factor, but more and more the need for this will be less and less. There is a much debated topic in the economic world. The delegates attending Davos in 2015 cited technology as the main cause of job displacement. A 2013 study from the University of Oxford, by Frey and Osborne, estimated that 47 percent of current U.S. jobs could be automated. Other research and surveys show a more optimistic view where more employment will be created due to technology. The truth of the matter is that no one knows what will really be the outcome. One thing we do know, however, it is that our world will continue to change. There is no slowing down or turning back. The momentum is in place and we have to keep up or be left behind.
The other downside of technology is that it isolates us while simultaneously connecting us to the world. In her book “Alone Together” Sherry Turkle notes that “We are sacrificing conversation for mere connection” “…So from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship”. On the surface we seem to be more connected but the reality is that people are more alone that ever. Technology is making us socially inept.
I have consciously limited my children’s exposure to technology. It’s not that I wanted to be mean or clung to some antiquated idea about technology. It was just the opposite. I wanted to give my girls a chance to really connect with people, places and things. I wanted them to be social and learn to interact in person with people and play games that required them to use their imagination. I wanted them to have this for a long as possible, to be disconnected and free. I knew once they got plugged in there will be no turning back. I did my best for the last ten years. But, in the last week I realized that I can no longer keep them away from social media and smart phones. Not when all their friends are connecting online and this is the new norm. So as much as I am aware of all the pros and cons of technology I can’t hold it off any longer. I have to concede. I may have lost this battle, but I am not giving up. I will continue to encourage and strongly suggests offline activities and interactions. I want them to learn to use technology to enrich their lives. I don’t want technology to rule their lives. Wish me luck.